Why stories can have a silent protagonist

There are numerous occasions when we play the role of a mute or absent from the dialogue. From the beginning of video games to the present, countless silent protagonists have passed through our consoles and computers. And the first question we must ask is, "Why?" Why deprive our playable character of the ability to communicate?

Beyond the constraints of time or the fact that he may have a disability, the truth is that it is always related to the player's identification with the protagonist that we control, or, in other words, so that the person who plays feels more comfortable with the role to be fulfilled.

Removing the speech means flattering it, a way to suppress his personality (or at least a portion of it) so that, as previously stated, the player can adopt his identity. Of course, within the confines of the video game. In any case, it must be stated that speaking is one more means by which we can express ourselves. That lack of it does not imply a lack of personality (having more or less personality is a valid concept because it is something valuable).

As previously stated, this resource is typically used, in my opinion, to avoid the character's personality colliding with that of the player. However, this is not only true in video games; protagonists in other media are frequently designed to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. Hence, making the secondary characters' personalities more distinct. And often, the video game's solution to include more players is to make the protagonist mute.

Considering that the forms of expression are limited to actions that the player controls, any opportunity for the playable character to express themselves remain in the player's hands. Unless we incorporate cinematics into the work. In this case, the character has complete autonomy in these parts, with the ability to perform actions that define him or not.

Building, or rather not building, a character makes sense, given what has already been stated. But what happens when we add aspects that can speak about the said character that define it in some way, even mild?

The Half-Life saga is an example of this. I agree with Gordon Freeman that there are conflicts in how the protagonist is approached (unless he is mute). The first starts with a name. Because having a name is already something identifying, the most common element that distinguishes us from one another, the distances between player and protagonist are already shown. The second component is your background. True, we don't know much about him, but the fact that he is (or was) a Black Mesa employee tells us something about his past.

These two elements are sufficient to maintain a safe distance from the player. The protagonist ceases to be a completely flat character simply by being able to address him by name. In fiction, the name is usually not the first thing that comes to mind; it can be related to the plot or the topic that will be discussed. As a result, the decision to make him mute with some elements that define him, rather than an empty container that the player can fill with the personality he wants to adopt, strikes me as odd.

The same can be said about Breath of the Wild. This time, the name "Link" has already been established in the saga. Previously, even if the name was already canon, we could call it whatever we wanted. That is no longer the case, and we will most likely no longer have the initial keyboard to write a name in future deliveries. Furthermore, we are already learning more about Link's personality in this video game, specifically in Zelda's diary. And yet, despite this, he lacks his voice. Although the latter may be motivated by the desire to preserve a long tradition in the saga. Except for a few infamous creations that you'd rather forget.

In terms of narrative, the decision to create a protagonist with or without a voice shapes the entire video game. The interactions with the other characters must be altered, and we must consider whether or not to include a background and the implications of doing so. Furthermore, our character does not speak at times becomes absurd. Especially during the adventure's interactions with the other NPCs. It feels strange that no conversation occurs; in the end, all we do is listen to the other character's monologue because the character we control is unable to respond, and we, as players, have no opportunity to respond.

This is common in adventures where the characters are dubbed and have no written dialog. Because in video games, where conversations take place through text, whether dubbed or not, we usually have the option to select a line of dialogue, no matter how anecdotal it may be. In the second example, we have specific dialogue options in Breath of the Wild, implying that Link can speak.

I don't want to say that the resource used by these video games is bad, but I believe it is, at the very least shocking. Where do you draw the line between portraying a character and "feeling yourself"? It's complicated because protagonists in video games can be built in various ways. Even if the character is defined and has his backstory, the video game allows you to make decisions and shape the personality of the person you control. Although it is not required, in franchises such as Grand Theft Auto, you can perform actions contrary to what is presented to you without being explicitly given the option to do so.

But let us return to the silent protagonist. We could say that this type of character exists in limbo until he presents himself with some identifying elements (name, background, and even appearance). Is it reasonable for them not to speak? In some war games, for example, the lack of the voice of the soldier we control makes sense because it could be anyone, and we are just another participant in the fight. But what about video games, which give us more control?

Everything, in my opinion, is determined by the importance we place on the narrative. It is not by chance that the most successful video games in the script also feature protagonists with clearly defined personalities and development. This is not to say that other video games with complex and well-told stories cannot have silent protagonists. As I previously stated, it all depends on how the narrative elements are structured and complemented, though I believe it is more complicated.

Other works, however, opt for a complete lack of text and dialogue, conveying their message to us through the visual or playable. There is nothing to object to this decision because the entire video game is based on other aspects, leaving out all dialogue, whether they are protagonists or secondary. As a result, no strange interactions occur.

That being said, there are numerous approaches to creating a silent protagonist. Of course, this would be unthinkable in the film industry, but it is a valid method in video games. But how far does this go?

Here are resources I recommend to get more in-depth knowledge

Storytelling 101 teaches you how to write compelling stories worthy of commercial success. This is best for screenwriters, novelists, filmmakers, videogame writers and storytellers.

Children’s Books 101 teaches you how to write stories that children will love. This is best for aspiring children’s book authors and storytellers.

Owl AI is the revolutionary AI-powered content production platform that helps storytellers, writers, and bloggers of all subject matter easily create highly-polished content.

Success, Money & Mindset Subliminal is a self-hypnosis recording that we recommend to new writers to help with focus, concentration, creativity, and motivation.

Shadow Work Journal: 240 Daily Prompts contains inner work exercises related to relationships, anger, anxiety, self-love, healing trauma, abandonment issues, depression, forgiveness, etc.


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